A few months ago I had Steven Hewett, an Army vet who returned from Afghanistan to find that his hometown of King, NC had put up a memorial to fallen soldiers and was flying a Christian flag over it, on my radio show. He told me then that a lawsuit was in the works and that suit has now been filed. You can read the full complaint here.
This case started about 2 1/2 years ago, when Hewett first complained to city leaders about the Christian flag flying over the memorial. The city first agreed to remove the flag, then changed their minds and followed the advice of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) in creating a limited public forum. What they did was institute a lottery system that allowed different groups to apply for the right to control the flag for a certain number of weeks, to be decided by lottery. That way, they reasoned, each group can decide which flag to fly and now it’s no longer government expression but private expression. As a result, the Christian flag only flies 47 weeks of the year instead of 52.
Some facts from the complaint:
When Mr. Hewett objected, the City Manager warned that Mr. Hewett would “answer to God and Jesus Christ”; the Mayor stated—at a City Council meeting, no less—that Mr. Hewett “needs us to pray for him.”
After its lawyer warned that its conduct was unconstitutional, the City purported to remove the flag; but it immediately established a sham “limited public forum” as a “plan for returning the Christian flag to the Veteran’s Memorial.” True to plan, under the so-called public forum, the very same Christian flag has flown at the Veterans’ Memorial all but a few weeks of every year.
Flying the Christian flag is not the only way that the City promotes Christianity at the Veterans Memorial. Next to the Christian flag, the City built a statue of a soldier kneeling before a cross (“the Cross Statue”). Official, City-sponsored events to commemorate Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, and September 11 have consistently featured multiple Christian prayers delivered by City officials and invited clergy. And a variety of other practices have reinforced the City’s commitment to promoting Christianity and ostracizing anyone with different religious beliefs.
Whether Jews or Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists, Atheists or Agnostics, American soldiers of diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs have fought, bled, and died for their country. The Constitution prohibits the City from exploiting their sacrifice to promote Christian worship.
There has already been a documentary made about Hewett’s case and the predictable reaction of local residents. When he first complained about it, a huge rally was held where speakers demanded that Hewett be chased out of the community. And one guy bluntly said that he thinks they should beat Hewett up — but then they should “extend a hand of Christian charity” to help him up afterwards. Hewett will definitely be part of my book.